It’s rare for an artist to be able to transcend between contrasting musical cultures and between the worlds of underground and commercial music, but within all that exists Mouse.
Using a pseudonym as a way to create freedom of expression, overcome insecurities and to separate the artist from the self, Mouse as a person and songwriter is deeply honest and welcomingly open about mental health and how her musical journey embodies that.
Having released the massive single ‘3 Weeks’ in 2018, the euphoric ‘Grow’ and the hyper-infectious ‘Touch’ – Mouse has set the standards high. Yet as a performance, through costume and backing dancers, it is unapologetic, theatrical and makes the audience and space exist within the world of Mouse – and perhaps that’s where we all need to be.
How has your year been?
M- I’ve been really busy actually, I’m trying to fit in rehearsals with my two dancers which is a really nice step up. For me, in terms of my live performances, it’s always been something that I’ve always wanted to do.
I love dancing myself anyway, but I’m not the best dancer so I need that kind of input from people who know what they’re talking about, who know what they’re doing, particularly when it comes to choreography. But that’s a really fun way for me to have another form of expression.
Your track ‘Grow’, my personal favourite, did you collaborate with another producer for that song?
M – I like to say that I executively produce everything. I’ll get all the stems and listen to them all, and if I don’t like a drum sampling for example I’ll replace it or I’ll edit it myself, whatever it might be. So ‘Grow’ went through a couple of people’s ears and one person did produce the track itself. But it actually sounded pretty different from the first draft. The vocal drop for example didn’t exist, it was actually a male hum, doing a similar melody but it wasn’t my voice in the chop. So that was somebody else putting that in which I really liked. ‘Grow’ was actually produced 2 years ago, same with ‘Escape’ and ‘3 Weeks’. But I had no confidence in producing myself because I’ve never really done that before in that way and put something out. So now that ‘Touch’ has come out and I’ve done that myself, I’m like I can actually do this and it’s fine.
So ‘Touch’ was produced solely by you?
M – Touch is me yeah. I cannot even describe how apprehensive I was when that came out, because mixing has always been something that I don’t regard myself as being good at all. I trained to be a Mastering Engineer at uni, but mixing was one part of the process where I just didn’t trust myself, I’d question everything whether it was right. So I’m really happy with how it turned out.
So what makes you want to collaborate with a producer? Do you get to a certain point in a song and you’re stuck with it? Or do you feel they could help with the overall sound?
M – A bit of both to be honest. Initially it was a bit of a confidence issue. I felt like I wasn’t capable, had the right ear for it or I just didn’t have the right samples for it and I was worried about that as well.
Having it go through another set of ears is really helpful for me because that means that there’s somebody else that can check for mistakes, you know glaringly obvious that I’ve neglected to realise myself. Stylistically as well I think that’s really important.
Although I’m capable of doing it on my own now, I think it’s really important to collaborate because it’s quite lonely as well, to be honest. I don’t really have a band, as it were, I don’t really have other musicians to bounce off in that way. So it’s a nice way of building a community of other people.
Talk me through your creative process, how has it evolved as you’ve grown as an artist?
M – I’m a grade 8 pianist – I haven’t really taken it seriously in the past 5 years – but it’s my first instrument. I’ve never really had any formal training with singing, I was kicked out of my choir in school because I wasn’t good enough apparently but I just love it, so I’m going to do it anyway.
Theory was also really important to me as well, but when I write songs I try and forget all of that, because I think that my concern would be that it would come across as being inauthentic. I’ve held back in the academic side of music which isn’t very relatable to the average listener, the normal person who is going to be listening to your song on a playlist. And also with pop music, unless it’s really avante-garde, it doesn’t really come across, to me anyway.
In terms of the writing process, if I have any sort of strong emotion, it doesn’t matter what end of the spectrum it is. I just try and switch my mind off And whatever needs to come out, let that move my pen if that makes sense? So I don’t really think about it too much.
You released ‘Touch’ on Illegal Data who support an eclectic range of artists. How has it been working with them?
M – I met Arthur (Illegal data) through Emily Ishwerwood because I used to be her bassist. He’s such a nice guy. We got chatting, added each other on Facebook and never saw each other again for like 3 years. And then ‘3 Weeks’ came out and he was like “This song is really sick, I didn’t know you can do this. Is this a thing? You have to perform at one of our nights.”
And I was like ‘What? No.’ because I lived in Bath at the time, I just didn’t know what was going on here in Bristol. So I went down to check out Illegal Data, I could not believe it existed. I just loved it so much, the atmosphere was so great, it felt like a really safe space and I really enjoyed that element of it to.
There’s always a clash between the ideas of being DIY and stepping into the worlds of ‘commercial music’, where do you see Mouse going in terms of growth outside of the DIY scene if at all?
M – I’m always open to growth. I’m in no way saying the scene is a ceiling whatsoever, it’s a fantastic platform and I’m really proud to be part of it. But I’m always actively looking for the next thing otherwise I don’t think this project will fill it’s potential and I think it’s important that I drive that because I don’t have a manager, I just want to keep my eyes on everything that’s available to me.
I also think I’m in quite a unique situation, and I don’t really know many other artists who are straddling between the two worlds worlds of pop and DIY as it were. I never had it in my head when I started releasing this music that I would be a ‘DIY artist’, I never had it in my head that would the route that I would stick to go down and it was pure coincidence that Arthur messaged me and enjoyed what I released. It was pure coincidence, it was not a decision I’d made. Obviously, I’m really glad with the way it worked out, I love the working relationship I have with Harry (Illegal Data) and Arthur, but it was never an intentional choice.
Talking of your live performances – you don’t play with musicians live, is this a conscious decision or purely logistical?
M – It’s quite conscious, I don’t really want to have a band, I’m just not interested in that for this project. I’ve loved being in bands before, but I’ve always admired artists who have a DJ or nothing at all, just backing track… and maybe dancers.
They are just there by themselves, center stage…
M – “It’s all about me! I don’t want anyone looking at anyone else!”
No… I just would rather keep it simple like that. There’s something really satisfying about doing it on my own I suppose, and people are very open to that in Bristol which is really great and comforting for me. If I know that I can’t find anyone to play with me, I can just cycle in and do it myself.
What personifies ‘Mouse’?
M – When I decided that I wanted to release music on my own I knew that I wanted a pseudonym at this point. When I was going through school, I was really shy, I’m four foot eleven, I’m in no way of average height. For me, my height has been one of my biggest insecurities, I think I stopped growing when I was 12 or something? And one of the biggest goals of mine is to allow other people to connect with what I’m doing and to also see that I’m owning my biggest insecurity and you can as well, I want to empower people to own exactly who they are and I want to embody that energy and use it as my name.
To turn the embodiment of your insecurity into a positive thing?
M – Absolutely.
How important is it for you to have that pseudonym?
M – Really important. I don’t want to have something on my real name. A big part of it was safeguarding myself, my identity.
To separate from your personal life?
M – Yeah, I want to keep that very separate. Initially it was very important in that way, but also I wanted to create something that people could hear the name of and be like ‘Oh what’s that about?’ and I wanted it to be quite engaging and also I think that I’m not really blessed with a glamourous “real” name.
I know that feeling…
M – Right? If I was, then maybe I would have had something else as a name. But I wanted to create the illusion that I was something completely different.
Do you think having a pseudonym gives you more freedom?
M – That was my plan initially, I can create a whole new persona for this character and it is just a character. Also I suffered from stage fright before I was doing this, I was used to being the bassist and I thought I’d be totally fine, at the back behind everyone else, that’s fine. But the idea of being on an open stage on my own was just terrifying and I hoped that, if I called myself something else, I’d be able to attach this personality to it that was really brave – so I could in that moment forget who I was.
It’s funny, because so quickly I realised that actually Mouse and Me, we are the same person, that is who I am – I don’t think that I’ve ever really shown that to people before. Perhaps because it’s quite different, maybe? I was quite nervous about showing that side of who I really was.
That sound and image is quite unapologetic and theatrical in the form of the costumes, backing dancers, big pop songs etcetera – which in the critical world of the DIY scene, is a contrast to this idea of the humble grassroots artist.
M – If I was doing this to impress anyone else, I wouldn’t be doing this and I think that it’s unapologetic because that’s what it has to be to exist.
Do you think Mouse could work without having this element of theatricality?
M – I don’t think it would to be honest. I think that it would bore me, so if I’m not interested in it then what’s the point? I’ve got a short attention span and I just need more than ‘”hat” – I want there to be a kind of place in Bristol where people can come and indulge in that sort of ‘pop stuff’ – that they are probably a bit embarrassed to enjoy.
I suppose there’s also an element of artistic insecurity when everything is stripped away.
M – Definitely. I think it’s good because it’s an area I think I can develop in. There have been so many aspects in this project where I’ve been afraid with what I’ve been about to do. I think that that has been what’s driven me throughout the last year.
There’s a real resurgence right now with solo DIY-pop artists. Do you feel there’s a reason for pop coming back to the DIY scene?
M – I think that there’s so much stress for everyone in the world that now more than ever it’s important to just enjoy yourself and to have that ability to switch off from your job, or your troubles, whatever they may be. I think that people are generally looking for something that can help them forget about difficult things in their lives and that’s why ‘pop’ is so important. I don’t think it will ever go away because that’s its main job in my eyes.
Every week I see your ‘What’s your good news?’ story on Instagram and you are very open in talking about mental health, I’d like to talk about why you use Mouse and your artistic reach that openly online when obviously you like to keep your personal life separate.
M – For a big proportion of my life I have been deeply unhappy, and I have suffered with a range of mental health problems which I’m always happy to talk about. It’s a big part of what I want to do as well; raise awareness of conditions because some that I’ve had are not very well known. What I want to do is basically allow other people, particularly younger people, I want to allow them the ability to actually recognise what is actually great in their lives and what is going on – help people celebrate the tiniest achievement, it doesn’t matter. Because they might not have that support of family, friends, everything around them. I’m not saying that I’m sweeping in and being their saviour or whatever, but it’s such a simple question ‘What’s your good news?’.
It’s just a small amount of support that can go a long way.
M – Yeah, and I think that social media can be so negative but also positive. I really enjoy using it as a connective tool and I like building that community. It’s a really personal way to connect I think. It’s really lovely being messaged “I really like this song”, but actually I want to get deeper than that, I want more of a relationship than something that’s quite surface level.
Do you think it’s important for an artist to talk about serious issues all the time or if at all?
M – For me, I want something more personal from a lot of artists that I listen to. I think it’s nice to recognise that an artist is human and that we all experience such a wide range of emotions – that life experience is a part of the human existence.
I think that a lot of pop artists, maybe in order to make more money – recognise that stuff that is more approachable to a wider audience is the shit that’s about partying and whatever else.
What’s really important to me is having an honest representation. I also think it’s interesting though, when I go to write stuff I’m not necessarily thinking about, how the listener might feel about it. For example, when I’m in a bad place, I might write a song which is actually about ‘killing it’ and ‘having a great time’ because having that escapism for me – just in that moment of writing – is really quite an interesting juxtaposition.
What sometimes helps me escape a sad time is if I write about being really happy.
Mouse plays Wax Music and So Young Magazine’s Who Are You? Show at Exchange on Wednesday, 22nd January with Walt Disco and Fever 103 – tickets available here.
Words: Kieran Herbert Photography: Amia Watling